Positive Persuasion through Peer Pressure

towel reuseWhat would get people to reuse their towels in hotel rooms?

The answer might surprise you, as it’s not saving the environment or saving money. People are more likely to reuse their hotel towels if they are told that everyone else is doing it.

This variant of the ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ effect seems hard to believe but has been confirmed in a variety of scientific studies.  For example, researchers asked nearly 1000 Californians to predict which of four messages would be most successful at persuading them to conserve energy:

  1. conserving energy helps the environment
  2. conserving energy protects future societies
  3. conserving energy saves you money;
  4. many of your neighbors are already conserving energy.

Not surprisingly, respondents rated the fourth option as least likely to influence their behavior. However, in practice, the researchers found this was actually the most effective in changing behavior; nearly twice as strong as a predictor of energy conservation as any other message.

Britain’s officials improved their tax collection rate 50% by following a similar approach.  Rather than sending threatening letters to people who didn’t pay their taxes on time, they appealed to their civic duty and pointed out the majority of their neighbors had already paid. By doing so, they collected £5.6 Billion ($8.6 B) more revenue than they had the previous year.

The desire to fit in is so innate that we do not recognize it influences our behavior. In a frequently-cited study, scientists showed they could influence NYC subway commuters to increase their donations to street musicians by 8 times, simply by having other people visibly donate. In other words, seeing their ‘neighbors’ donate caused commuters to donate more. Study participants who were interviewed afterwards failed to recognize they were influenced by others.  Instead, they claimed “I liked the song he was playing”; “I’m a generous person”; and “I felt sorry for the guy.”

Of course, marketers have long used peer pressure as a way of creating more interest in a product. Famously, infomercial writer Colleen Szot changed the traditional line of “Operators are standing by” to “If operators are busy, please call again”. The suggestion you might miss out on a product that all of your neighbors were buying created a stronger call-to-action.

Given all of this research, it’s not surprising that hotels are turning to the same technique to get us to reuse towels and sheets. And it’s working.

By the way, 75% of your neighbors who read this blog tweeted it or emailed it to a friend.

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13 Responses to Positive Persuasion through Peer Pressure

  1. linusjf (@linusjf) April 21, 2013 at 10:02 pm #

    The ‘everyone else is doing it’ logic extends to lousy things as well. Does it then make it right? Just being rhetorical, of course!

  2. Ulrika April 21, 2013 at 11:07 pm #

    Reblogged this on Gusto Coaching and commented:
    Peer pressure – for good and bad. A great blog post from Manage By Walking Around

  3. Paul Kurchina April 22, 2013 at 3:40 am #

    Similar to approach by a company called


  4. Peter Hirsch April 22, 2013 at 8:24 am #

    Sort of a mirror image of the “Bystander Effect” in which the more people that are present, the less likely any individual is to come to the aid of a person in distress.

  5. bambusasolutions April 22, 2013 at 11:26 am #

    Reblogged this on Bambusa Solutions and commented:
    Human nature trumps logic.

  6. Tyler Smith April 22, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    Hotels should put up a sign in the bathrooms then that say ‘everyone is doing it so should you’ then? That is fascinating. Does that mean that the saying ‘if all your friends jumped off a cliff would you do it to?’ true? Was my mother right all this time?

    Black and White Copies

    • Jonathan April 22, 2013 at 11:40 am #

      Apparently, Mom is always right

  7. Carolyn Brock April 25, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    This rings so true in social media. I’ve witnessed many people jump into new platforms without giving much thought as to why they are doing so. If we are easily influenced by strangers, think how much more influential our social media “friends” are!

  8. Joan Sherlock (@jesherlock) April 25, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

    We’ll run a test, I will tell my team 8 people from our group have already commented on this blog post.

  9. Grant Eaton April 29, 2013 at 6:16 pm #

    Right on point! “First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy” (3 minutes long):

  10. catalina April 30, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    Haha, fun read! 🙂

  11. Longhorn Web Design May 2, 2013 at 9:18 am #

    Reblogged this on Longhorn Web Design.

  12. loquacionist July 1, 2013 at 8:17 am #

    Great post! How well did your tie in work at the end? Did it prove the notion true?

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